Shinta Mani Wild – Bensley Collection, Cambodia
Ready to go wild? Located deep in the jungle, three hours' drive from Phnom Penh, Shinta Mani Wild is a true wilderness experience. Celebrated resort designer Bill Bensley created this five-star tented camp to help conservation efforts in this area, which is also home to three of Cambodia's oldest national parks. Guests can explore the wilderness through a range of activities including hikes, boat trips and heading out with rangers on anti-poacher patrols.
If you choose to arrive via zip line (a more conventional arrival by car can also be arranged), you will land smack-bang in the middle of the camp, which unfurls along the river bank. As well as the Landing Zone Bar, the central hub includes the Waterfall Restaurant, where all meals are served. From here, it is a short walk both to the Boulders Spa, which uses chemical-free products by Khmer Tonic, and to the inviting lap pool. At present, just five of the planned 15 tents are completed; ultimately these will stretch out on both sides of the central area. The tents are spaced 100 metres apart and surrounded by vegetation, which allows you to enjoy absolute privacy. However, that also means that it is a long walk to the furthest tents.
Bill Bensley is known for delivering super-stylish luxury retreats, and these tents are no exception. Each one measures 100 square metres and combines a vintage vibe with cheery bursts of colour. There is an imposing hand-carved bed, comfortable armchairs and antique suitcases to add atmosphere, but you are likely to spend most of your time on your extraordinary private deck. This spacious area overlooking the river includes not just a sprawling sofa and a dining table and chairs, but also a fully-stocked, complimentary bar and a roll-lipped bathtub. It is a luxurious private haven just made for cocooning.
We are a long way from sausages grilled over a campfire. While there are no menus as such – the chef will discuss meal options with you each day – meals are absolutely superb. Breakfast starts with a fruit plate and a pastry basket; hot choices change every day but may include Kep crab cakes, traditional Cambodian noodles, and lemon souffle pancakes. Dinner is a three-course affair; one of my favourite meals is ribbons of salmon and cucumber served with kaffir lime ponzu.
As tempting as it is to hole up in your tent, the Shinta Mani Wild experience is all about getting out and exploring the wilderness. You can choose to dial up or dial down the adventure level. Feeling energetic? Try mountain biking, or head out on a full-day hike. Sound too strenuous? Perhaps a shorter hike or a kayak trip would suit. (The latter is a great option for birdwatchers; expect to see everything from egrets to drongos to hawks.) Still too energetic? Join Mac for his butterfly walk, or Det for his orchid walk (as well as dozens of species of orchids, you may also see wild vanilla), or enjoy the meditative experience which is Japanese fly-fishing. Coming up soon is a small fleet of pontoon boats, equipped with day beds and other little luxuries, which will let you cruise on the area's network of estuarine waterways.
An exhilarating zip line trip into camp sets the tone for this luxurious jungle experience.
Some tents are a long walk from the main lodge.
OUR RATING: 5
Rates from $US1900 per couple, twin share, including all meals and beverages, all private guided activities and excursions and unlimited spa treatments. shintamani.com/wild
DISCLOSURE Ute Junker was a guest of Shinta Mani Wild – Bensley Collection.